November 17, 2011 in Washington Voices

The Verve: Her memory is her muse

Jennifer Larue, Jlarue99@Hotmail.Com
J. Bart Rayniak photoBuy this photo

Stephanie Sammons poses with her tribute to her father, Ken Sammons, “Britches Too Big,” in her Liberty Lake attic studio. “I never will be able to fill his britches,” she said of her dad, who years ago was a janitor at Gonzaga University and is now the director of University Services.
(Full-size photo)

Art quote of the week

“The charm, one might say the genius, of memory is that it is choosy,

chancy and temperamental; it rejects the edifying cathedral and indelibly photographs the small boy outside, chewing a hunk of melon in the dust.”

Elizabeth Bowen (1899-1973), writer

To learn more

Find Stephanie Sammons on Facebook or email her directly at

If you hear strange sounds coming from the garage attached to Stephanie Sammons’ Liberty Lake home, she’s in there using saws and drills, deconstructing found objects and reconstructing them. When it’s quiet, she is inside the house, creating her serious yet playful mixed-media portraits or she’s at Eastern Washington University pursuing a master’s in art therapy.

The reasoning behind her endeavors is simple; art “saved” her and she, in turn, hopes her skills might somehow save others.

It’s an interesting story. As she was studying English and psychology at the University of Puget Sound, a road trip to California for spring break ended up in a 10-car pileup. With her head split open, memories tumbled out including how to read and write and “who in the heck is that standing in my room?” Photos and other visual stimuli helped spark her memory.

“My current series mirrors the way my mind worked after the accident, taking dissimilar fragments and snapshots, flashes of memory and incidents I’d been told I should remember and piecing them into the story of a life,” she said.

Returning to college was difficult. “After that car wreck, art and theater classes were the only courses I could handle. I had difficulty reading. My short-term memory was impaired. Synapses were reconnecting, and the medications I was taking made focusing impossible,” she said.

She “limped” her way to a bachelor’s in studio art and went on to work in “artsy” jobs including drafting and graphic design. She made art to “stay sane” and has completed a large body of work mostly for friends and family.

Her pieces could be described as fine-art scrapbooking simply because the whole idea behind scrapbooking is to forever capture memories but her work goes many steps beyond. The focal point is a portrait (or the occasional still-life) drawn in colored pencil; the hand-built “frame” becomes an extension of the subject and includes parts of a guitar or a typewriter, shells, a spoon, wheels from a toy truck or pieces from a favorite pair of pajamas.

Sammons, 38, learned to handle power tools in her childhood with her father in the wood shop at Gonzaga University. “I idolized him. I loved learning about the tools,” she said, “If I behaved, Dad let me choose pieces from the scrap bin beneath the table saw. I’d take them home, glue them together and paint them. I suppose that was the beginning of my fondness for power tools, and where I got the notion of assembling from found fragments.”

Sammons’ art is really all about “found fragments;” fragments that should never be lost but cherished.

Sammons has shown at Santé, the Liberty Lake Library and at Brews on Washington Street, where she will exhibit again in March. Currently, she is at Barks and Beans on the South Hill where she will demonstrate live drawing sometime during the run of the show. She hopes her future will include commissions for people and pet portraits and work in the realm of art therapy because she has firsthand knowledge of its benefits.

The Verve is a weekly feature celebrating the arts. If you know an artist, dancer, actor, musician, photographer, band or singer, contact correspondent Jennifer LaRue by email

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